The Springfield Interchange, also known as the 'Mixing Bowl' to locals of the Virginia/DC metro area, is the infamous highway intersection where I-95, I-395 and the Washington Beltway collide in a mix of concrete, steel, on-ramps, off-ramps and often a very large number of automobiles.
There is currently a large construction project going on that is scheduled to be completed around the year 2010, a project that has been going consistently over budget. The goal of the project is a massive grouping of express, local, and HOV lanes, connected in all possible directions by numerous on-ramps and off-ramps. It will then be widened to 20 or more lanes across at the southern end, where it must also handle traffic going to the large commercial area of Springfield, Virginia.
Many people do have problems/aversions to dealing with the Mixing Bowl, especially the connection from the outer loop of the Beltway to southbound 95 - an exit that can back up in excess of 2 miles even during medium traffic volume. There are three basic ways of dealing with the mixing bowl.
The most common way of dealing with the Mixing Bowl is to grin and bear it. Most people cope by turning up their radio an extra notch and listening for alerts that play on most DC stations during the rush hour. If this is your plan, watch for the signs in advance, and get in your lane. If you're in no hurry to get to your destination, just sit with the flow of traffic.
There are those people who feel that the Mixing Bowl is their own personal playground. These are the same brave souls who brave the left hand lane of the Beltway, and see nothing wrong with merging directly across two lanes of traffic rather than work their way over. Though seemingly aggressive, these drivers have developed certain instincts, and an intimate knowledge of the exits, and which lane will take them where. These are the same drivers who will avoid merging during on-ramps if they can cut across the median strip and into the flow of highway traffic. Although illegal, this practice is hard to stop by the police, as there is no place for them to enforce this law. So, as infuriating as it may seem to the patient driver waiting his or her turn to merge, as with many things in the Mixing Bowl, a certain amount of patience is required. Just sit back, take a deep breath, and watch for your break.
Partaking in such activities as listed above is not a practice for the faint of heart, nor for the driver unfamiliar with the Mixing Bowl.
There are ways to avoid the Mixing Bowl altogether, but they do require a bit more knowledge of the area roads than most drivers just passing through the DC area have. The best way to prepare for this is to grab a map ahead of time, and to find your route around the Mixing Bowl. One of the larger and more easily accessed roads to do this on is Beulah Street, which will take you through Springfield and to both the Beltway and I-95 without worrying about the Mixing Bowl.
Where Am I Going?
With the large number of on ramps and off ramps at the Mixing Bowl, as well as changes in route numbers and directions, it can be difficult for the casual or first-time driver in the Mixing Bowl to know exactly where they are going, or if they are getting there properly. For that reason, here are the four ways the Mixing Bowl can be approached from.
I-95 Northbound from Richmond/Springfield
From this direction there are three popular destinations:
Tysons Corner/I-66 - This requires the driver to take the second exit from I-95 Northbound to the Mixing Bowl. This will take you to the inner loop of the DC Beltway.
Northbound I-395 to Landmark, Arlington and Downtown DC - Driving straight ahead on I-95 will result in ending up on route I-395, which is a direct shot to Downtown DC. I-95 itself actually branches off to the Outer Loop of the Beltway.
Continuing on I-95 to Maryland, Baltimore, and Points North - Continuing on I-95 requires taking the first Beltway exit, which is labelled to go to Maryland. The only disadvantage to going this direction is the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a drawbridge that does occasionally stop Beltway traffic in order to let some of the larger crafts up the Potomac River.
Outer Loop from Tysons Corners
From this direction, the most popular destination is I-95 South to Springfield and Richmond. This is the rather large exit that can get tied up, and often does. Two lanes exit, but they merge to one in the off ramp. This is the exit where people will often not merge, and instead ride the shoulder and median, merging before the main hit. Going this way requires merging several lanes to the left to avoid getting stuck in an off ramp heading to Springfield. If you do want to go to Springfield, stay in the absolute right lane, which will take you onto I-95 for a split second, then take you back off again.
Going this direction, Northbound I-395 to the District is a left exit, which provides no larger problem than forcing you to get to the left side of the Beltway. This direction is far less popular, due to more direct routes than coming around the Beltway.
I-395 South from the District
Most people heading southbound on I-395 intend to keep going straight, and hit I-95 south at the Mixing Bowl, since the one road becomes the other. Most people planning to hit the Beltway, and destinations from the Beltway, usually choose alternate routes, but there are separate exits for the inner and outer loops of the Beltway.
Inner Loop from the Wilson Bridge
The majority of traffic in this direction wants to either stay on I-95 Southbound, which requires taking the exit off the Beltway, since there is a turn in the road, or to stay on the Beltway. If you are, however, going onto I- 95 south bound, and know what you're doing, you can take exits onto either Highway 1, or Telegraph Road, as both precede the Mixing Bowl, and both more or less can take you the same places, locally, that exits off of I-95 south would take you.